Not A (Muse)d
Most of my childhood memories take place in the Philippines. I remember playing with my cousins in the province, frequenting the huge malls with my mom, and saving up to buy sweets at the mini-marts run by neighbors. However, as I grew older and matured, my experience of Filipino culture changed with each visit.
The more interested in fashion and beauty I became, the more I noticed the strict, self-employed guidelines that Filipina women followed. An aunt teasing me about my weight gain, or a cousin making fun of his sister for being dark-skinned were no longer jokes that flew over my head.
The most prominent Filipina beauty standard centers around our obsession with white skin.
I was born and raised in Saipan, a U.S. territory in the Pacific, where Filipinos make up 35.9 percent of the total population. Inevitably, the infatuation with light skin carried over. This was evident in how my Filipino relatives interacted with me and in how jokes about skin color circulated between cliques in school.
Whenever a big event came up, people prepared by staying of the sun and smearing on layers of sunscreen. Going to the beach a day before prom or graduation was atrocious.
This is what made moving to Boston such a huge cultural transition. American women sat out in the sun during the summer for the sole purpose of getting darker, sometimes even spending money on self-tanner and tanning booths.
In Filipino skin care commercials, glowing, pale women scrub away at their skin. These female celebrities, born fair-complected, swear that certain soaps or body washes helped achieve their skin color. Sadly, in all my visits to the Philippines, I’ve never encountered a single skin care advertisement with a dark-skinned muse.
My skin is fairer, so I never gave into whitening products. I have, however, witnessed the insecurities this standard instills in many young Filipino girls like me.
Veronica Layugan, a friend from home, confided in me the insecurity that haunts her daily.
“When I look at pictures, I’m not confident with what I look like, mainly because of my skin color,” she said. “I felt like it was a need for me to whiten my skin.”
She, like 50 percent of Filipinas, uses skin-whitening cosmetics to achieve the ideal Filipino appearance. Skin whitening cosmetics have always been confusing to me because indigenous Filipinas donned dark skin and curly hair.
This obsession with white skin lends itself to the relentless desire to look more westernized. Contemporary Filipina beauty idols sport pale skin and glossy, straight hair, and much of it is rooted in the psychological effects of American colonialism.
Growing up idolizing Barbie and Britney Spears, I desperately wanted to look like them. I hated my dark hair, round nose, and narrow-shaped eyes. I thought that being unhappy with my look was understandable since, living in Saipan, I was immersed in American culture. However, I now realize that I probably would have felt the same had I grown up in the Philippines.
As a kid, I never felt proud to look Filipino because it seemed like Filipinos weren’t proud to be Filipino, either, unless they looked anything but.
Filipinos, in their mission to look westernized, constantly keep tabs on American style and beauty trends and are quick to adopt them. Notably, there is a preference for conservative, simple clothing. Western makeup was previously frowned upon since it is anything but simple, but elements of it seem to be slowly catching on.
Lauren Granada, a Filipina journalism major at Emerson, disagrees with the beauty standard and believes that Filipinas should start embracing the differences in nose shape, body shape, and skin color.
“I don’t think that the standard should be geared towards making yourself look more white,” she said. “The models that they use should be more accurate in the types of women that do represent the Philippines.”
Asia Jackson, an African American-Filipina model and actress who experienced colorism firsthand, started the hashtag #MagandangMorenx in late October to celebrate dark-skinned Filipinos of all genders. The hashtag, which translates to “beautiful brown skin,” challenged the beauty standard enforced by mainstream Filipino media.
Filipino men and women responded positively, tweeting out pictures of themselves with descriptions of pride for their skin color.
Maybe the next memories I have of my mother’s home country will be marked with a heightened appreciation for all Filipino beauties.
Photogragraphy by: Lily Walsh & Maddie Douglas